Mickey Coyle: Paris’ Youngest Professional’s Unheralded Impact on Baseball

Coyle

Statistically, Mickey Coyle left little in the record books to justify a six-year Texas League career. A light-hitting second baseman prone to fielding errors, Mickey held one advantage over most opponents—speed. On the base paths, Mickey could turn would-be groundouts into infield singles and singles into extra-base hits. Unfortunately, the hits didn’t come often, and he spent a large part of his career on the bench watching his mentor, Paris’ Ben Shelton, masterfully direct his team mates on-field activities. Mickey Coyle could easily credit Ben Shelton for keeping his career alive. Then again, Shelton would have to credit Mickey for saving his legacy.

Early Texas sportswriters hailed Frank “Mickey” Coyle as a Paris product, but in reality he only lived in Lamar County two years. Born in Kentucky in 1885, Mickey and two older sisters moved to Paris in 1899 when another sister, the wife of local dentist Eugene Morris and a new mother, unexpectedly died. Upon arriving in Paris, Mickey befriended local amateur baseball players like Tony Thebo and began playing sandlot ball. Ben Shelton, fresh off his rookie Texas League season in Galveston, spotted Coyle on the diamond and took an immediate liking to Paris’ newest raw talent. Just two years later, undoubtedly with Shelton’s assistance, sixteen year-old Mickey made his professional debut, batting an underwhelming .216 in over 113 games with the Dallas Griffins. It was the last season he and Ben Shelton spent on separate ball clubs.

In 1903, Mickey signed with his adopted hometown’s new Texas League franchise, the Paris Steers. In mid-May, Shelton’s Corsicana Oil Citys came to town for a series, but Ben wasn’t content to leave Paris with only three more tallies in the win column. When Shelton approached Steers owner Ted Sullivan, the old Irish baseball magnate agreed to release Mickey to sign with Corsicana. Over the next four seasons, Coyle and Shelton traveled from Corsicana to Cleburne to Temple, winning championship rings on two occasions. Still, although a crowd favorite with a rousing sense of humor, Mickey Coyle never became more than a serviceable ballplayer. Sportswriters, though, sang his praises, exaggerating Mickey’s “solid” play at second base and his “blistering line drives” in their daily game summaries.

Despite the unwavering support of Ben Shelton and the newspapers, Mickey Coyle made his greatest contribution to baseball, not on the diamond, but in a Waco hotel restaurant in 1906. Coyle’s boss, Cleburne team owner Doak Roberts, had just signed a cocky young pitcher from Hubbard, Tris Speaker, to his squad. Though history suggests Mickey didn’t exactly welcome Speaker to the team, over the span of two days, the newcomer made enemies of the entire ball club, including manager Ben Shelton, a man seemingly without an enemy in all of Texas. With Shelton on the verge of sending Speaker home, Coyle privately convinced Doak Roberts to demand the new player apologize. Though the sincerity of Speaker’s apology remains in question, it satisfied Ben Shelton, and its impact changed baseball history. The manager’s keen baseball senses soon rated Tris Speaker’s pitching skills only average, and he moved the youngster to the outfield. With Shelton’s encouragement and fine tuning from old Texas Leaguer Con Lucid, two years later Speaker left Texas for Boston and a 22-year major league career. Ben Shelton didn’t know it at the time, but his young friend’s chat with Doak Roberts likely saved him from handing Tris Speaker a dollar’s train fare back to Hubbard in lieu of a ticket to baseball’s hall of fame.

After the 1907 season when he battled both malaria and a lowly .226 batting average with Shelton’s Temple Boll Weevils, Mickey Coyle retired from baseball. Rather than returning to his brother-in-law’s lavish home still standing on Fitzhugh Street in Paris, Mickey instead headed for Dallas where he took a job in a pool hall owned by, of course, Ben Shelton. Two decades later, he settled into a career in the West Dallas warehouse of the Texas Company, the forerunner to Texaco. In early September, 1944, a falling barrel struck Coyle in the abdomen on the warehouse floor. After a week of internal bleeding, he died at Methodist Hospital and was buried in Dallas’ Calvary Hill Cemetery. Only four months later, Ben Shelton died just thirty miles away in Terrell.

Mickey Coyle’s time in Paris was brief, and his statistics rank far below those of many Lamar County ballplayers. Regardless, the city can proudly claim both Mickey and Ben Shelton—the two men who may have saved Tris Speaker’s baseball career—as its own.

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